You read that right. The guy with the blog named I Dream of FIRE doesn’t actually want that dream to come true quite yet.
I fear what would happen if I suddenly came into enough money to be set for life. That kind of life change requires a solid plan to work out well, and right now I don’t have that.
I am not following a path to financial independence and early retirement because I just need an ample war chest to live my dreams. I haven’t the foggiest idea how I would spend my time if I didn’t have to go to work. Make me FI tomorrow and I might end up like so many lottery winners who don’t have need to work or a purpose to fill the time, so they end up in worse shape than before they hit the jackpot.
To be honest, I’m having a bit of a mental crisis about it.
I don’t keep a journal, so this post may be as close as I get to giving voice to these thoughts. Hopefully this will be somewhat comforting to others still early in the journey. For those who have found their “why,” please share in the comments what you are doing or plan to do upon FI or RE.
Sails to the wind
I don’t consider myself a particularly ambitious person. I don’t have an overarching life vision. I don’t have a grand career vision. I don’t get too caught up in titles and trophies. Serendipity has carried me a long way over nearly four decades.
I’ve been asked many times in job interviews where I see myself in five years.
Stop for a second and think about where you were this time five years ago. If someone asked you then where you would be today, how close would your answer be to current reality, both professionally and personally?
It seems a fool’s errand to prognosticate where I’ll be in five years, because at no point would I ever have been in the same ballpark as where I’ve ended up.
I have been blessed that the universe has presented me with opportunities I never would have sought. I’ve moved higher up the company food chain faster than I could have thought possible with very little intention on my part. The places I have worked put me in the positions where my skills were needed at the time.
I have been given a new position every 18 months or so for the past 15 years, usually with added responsibility and higher visibility. That’s all worked out great. I’ve had the skills and done the work to help put me in those positions, but they haven’t been waypoints on any predestined career map.
So what’s the problem?
That all sounds great. I have hopped from job to job, adding value along the way, and then moving on to the next thing. I like that cycle of learning something new.
I’ve been aware of a nagging sense of directionlessness for the past 18 months or so. It’s largely a feeling of “now what?” And I don’t have a good answer.
I really identified with the way this was described by Dominick Quartuccio on the ChooseFI podcast when he talked about drifting.
“Drifting is the state of living where you think you’re making conscious decisions, but you’re actually just kind of meandering through life in this hypnotic rhythm,” he said.
Drifting has worked well for me in the past, but in the present it feels like I should have a direction. Yet I don’t feel inspired toward one.
The pursuit of financial independence is sort of a stand-in goal, a worthwhile activity that will help whatever my future intentions may be, but not the end goal itself.
Quartuccio says often it takes some cataclysmic event to pull people out of the monotony and start to live intentionally. I would prefer to get my stuff together without that catalyst, thank you very much.
My task now is to identify that broader purpose, the things that will excite me and provide a glint in the distance to push toward. I’ve found that more difficult than I would have expected.
A problem of motivation
I’ll say for clarity that I don’t believe this is depression. It feels more like a mix of boredom and a lack of hard motivation to act. My job is stable, and my family is doing just fine financially. I need this change for reasons higher up Maslow’s hierarchy.
Wise people in the FI community (and even the traditional retirement community) say you should retire TO something, not FROM something. Having a strong sense of purpose that isn’t tied to your employment is key to making the transition from employed to retired.
Which is why I can’t see being financially independent tomorrow as something that would be good for me. I’d like to move on FROM something, but I don’t have the TO figured out yet. I know I’m not alone.
I could continue to do what I’m doing, collect a paycheck, come home and do it all over again. But I recognize there’s more out there for me than that. I need the nudge to move my daily needle from existing to excited.
If you’ve been in this situation, I would love to hear how you moved beyond that feeling. Or if you’re in it now, what are you doing to make progress?